UW-Madison advisors team up with UW-Health to create job shadowing program for underrepresented students


Students in the Health Professions Shadowing Program spend over thirty hours shadowing
healthcare professionals at UW hospitals and clinics.

On July 31 the Center for Pre-Health Advising (CPHA) kicked off a summer shadowing program connecting UW-Madison students to Wisconsin health professionals for the second year in a row.

Students accepted into the Health Professions Shadowing Program (HPSP) spend over thirty hours shadowing health professionals at UW Health and affiliated area clinics, visiting healthcare facilities, and learning about current trends in the field from providers in the community.

The program is coordinated by CPHA advisor Lindsey DeCarlo and Chican@ and Latin@ Studies advisor Rachelle Eilers who developed the program to support students from populations underrepresented in healthcare who lack connections to health professionals, including students who are first generation, ethnic and racial minorities, students from rural areas, or students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. 

“Through advising we observed a consistent disparity in extracurricular involvement among applicants over the years,” shares DeCarlo. “Our underrepresented student populations weren’t reporting as many shadowing hours as their peers. We saw a need and we wanted to do something to address it.” 

Shadowing is an instrumental part of the career development process because it allows students to see the day-to-day activities of the healthcare provider, and to see models of professionalism as they observe clinicians navigating the complex ethical and culturally sensitive treatment of patients, says DeCarlo.

Health professions programs increasingly require, or expect, shadowing. For pre-health students networking can be instrumental to getting a foot in the door (literally) as many hospitals or clinics require a staff sponsor to even apply to shadow.

Center for Pre-Health advisor Lindsey DeCarlo (left) and Chican@ and Latin@ Studies advisor Rachelle Eilers (right).

“Through networking students can strategically explore various careers, and stay informed about clinical and community opportunities that can give them an advantage when applying to competitive professional schools,” explains DeCarlo. “But it can be a daunting or even mystifying process for a student who doesn’t have a network to build on. HPSP gives students that foundation.” 

Bridgett Willey knows from personal experience the importance that foundation can have on one’s career. Willey is the Director of Allied Health Education and Career Pathways for UW Health and the program’s main connection to healthcare professionals.

“My father had the chance to be cross-trained in ultrasound when he had gotten out of the Navy,” she shares, “I used that as a jumping point to get into healthcare.”

The goals of HPSP align with Willey’s work with the HOPE Program, a one-day seminar that she developed to provide underrepresented high school students the opportunity to learn about careers in healthcare.

“The aim of every healthcare organization should be that its workforce reflects the demographics of the patients it serves,” says Willey. “We’re building a future workforce, and a future diverse workforce.”

Bridgett Willey, Director of Allied Health Education and Career Pathways for UW Health

Another goal of the program is to expose students to areas of healthcare they may not be familiar with, says Eilers. Last year, students shadowed or attended guest lectures from a wide range of healthcare professionals, including a Native American surgeon who addressed health disparities among native communities in northern WI, a Neonatal Intensive Care Social Worker who spoke about the effects of drugs use on newborn children, and a Pharmacist who spoke about the importance of free medical clinics for members of the community and UW students.

Throughout the program students are exposed to various careers within health professions, and are given opportunities to reflect on how these experiences may influence their future career goals.(PHOTO: LINDSEY DECARLO)

Data collected from 2016 participants showed positive outcomes. Ninety percent of students reported that the program helped them make connections with health professionals, and all students agreed that the program helped expand their understanding of different careers in healthcare while helping them gain a realistic understanding of their desired profession.

“We also saw unintended positive outcomes,” shares Eilers. “Many of the students in the program stayed in contact with each other and took courses together in the spring. This kind of community and belonging are crucial for long-term student success.”

Moving forward, DeCarlo and Eilers plan to apply for grants and secure a stable source of funding which will allow them to expand the program. They also hope to build more connections with clinics, establish “shadowing contracts” with regular hours, and find more healthcare professionals to mentor the students.

The collaboration between healthcare providers and students is mutually beneficial, says Willey, who points out that the baby boomer generation is retiring and will be seeking more and more healthcare in the upcoming years. “We have people who are retiring in the largest numbers we’ve ever seen and we just don’t have enough younger people in the workforce to replace them,” she says. Willey hopes that students will be interested in working for UW Health after they complete their degrees.


The Center for Pre-Health Advising (CPHA) supports students as they explore graduate and professional programs in healthcare, and as they prepare for professional exams and the application process through individual advising, workshops, events, and online resources. CPHA part of the Office of Undergraduate Advising.

The Health Occupations and Professions Exploration (HOPE) program provides one day seminar sessions in exploring health care careers for high school students. To learn more about HOPE, contact Bridgett Willey at BWilley@uwhealth.wisc.edu.

To learn more about the Health Professions Shadowing Program or how to become involved, contact Rachelle Eilers at reilers@wisc.edu or Lindsey DeCarlo at lindsey.decarlo@wisc.edu


Return to the August 2017 OUA Newsletter